“We lost momentum and we couldn’t get it back, and it was just a downhill spiral from there,” senior cornerback Jordan Mabin said. “When you get a lead, keep your foot down on the pedal. I think sometimes we would get a lead and sit back a little, and that hurt us in the end.”
Though the defense gave up big numbers in the second half last year, Pat Fitzgerald said the defense can’t take all the blame for blowing leads. More often, offensive struggles allow teams to get back into games.
“The [Michigan State] game we didn’t make a play in one phase in the fourth quarter,” Fitzgerald said. “The defense gets the blame because they didn’t get the stop when we needed a stop, but in all three phases we made enough mistakes and they made enough plays for us to lose.”
According to Northwestern's senior offensive lineman Al Netter, the offense is well aware of the pressure to perform in the second half, and is on the lookout for any solution.
“Dan [Persa] and I talked about that a lot this off-season,” Netter said. “We thought we did a great job coming out of the gates in most games first and second quarter. It seemed like it was a recurring theme for us to go three and out first few series of the second half. We’ve been brainstorming ways in which we can get the offense together and get us going, and keep that momentum going.”
Persa said he believes the key to better performances in the second half may not be more adjustments and changes, but rather fewer changes and focusing on what was successful.
“I think the main thing we’ve been focused on is not changing anything. We got to those big leads by doing something successful, and we can’t change that at halftime,” he said.
Netter said he agreed the issue wasn’t changing schemes, but rather in the players’ attitudes heading out of the break.
“I think it is just an attitude thing,” Netter said. “The second we walk in the locker room we’re talking through what worked, what didn’t work, what we’re changing. It’s just got to be an attitude thing for us. Sometimes we may get a little too complacent, but we’re definitely coming with a different attitude this year.”
For Fitzgerald, the key to the second half is simple: keep the momentum.
“What happens when you don’t have it is you press to get it back, and we were pressing [at Penn State]when you’re there and in the moment you know it, you can feel it, sense it. You can see it happening, and you do everything you can as a coach to stay in the moment.”
One of the biggest problems late in games last year came on defense, specifically with mental errors and self-inflicted wounds. According to Mabin, those issues hold the team back far more than anything else.
“I think eliminating beating ourselves and just playing against one team will help us out tremendously,” Mabin said. “Focus and details, that’s one of the biggest thing. We made a couple of mistakes [against Wisconsin] and they capitalized.”